Monday Morning Gaffer: The Saga Begins

This isn't your usual MMG game breakdown, instead I want to talk about the upcoming season, some of the Good and Bad as I see it. It's been tough to get a handle on this team, with the inconsistent results it's hard to know how this team will look. Yet results aren't always the key to spring games. Frequently it's about something else. So let's look a bit deeper at some of the positives and negatives.

El Bueno (The Good)

The biggest positive for me is the return of the solid defensive unit from the end of last season. Hyndman wanted to move Pearce and get a "natural right back" so he signed Aziz Anseh for that purpose. When that move didn't work SH quickly admitted to a bad signing and jettisoned the player. Sure Pearce has to stay in place for now, but that's ok. The coach didn't force a move for the sake of a move and didn't stick with his signing just to save face. That's two good moves in one by the coach, both take some guts and both are positives in my mind. Even if both are a result of a bad move before that.

Taking that defensive return a step forward, I believe it's a real positive that the formation and tactics remain the same. I've been hammering this for years, pick a system and stick with it. Find players, with Americans at the core, that fit the system. This is the Houston method and Hyndman is following it. Breaking down the FCD system is another article, but it's the same 4-1-4-1 has last year. Keeping it in tact, not asking players to spend the spring learning something new, should put FCD on good footing to open the season strongly.

The Kevin Hartman trade also a addressed a need as coach Hyndman saw it (as did many others). Hartman is in the letter half of his career, but the cap numbers I'm hearing make this a steal of a signing. Hartman is saying all the right things and he and Dario are getting along it appears. Hyndman loves him some Dario Sala, and having a player to push Dario should make the first choice net minder better. One potential stumbling block on this move is Hartman's reputation as being a media darling but locker room cancer. So far Hyndman has shown the ability to handle players with bad reps. Cunningham has been wonderful here. Daniel Hernandez, who had a bad rap, is the leader of this team and it's rightful captain. So clean slate for Hartman I think, we'll see how it goes.

I also really like that Brek Shea is getting the extended first team run and apparently will start the year at left midfield. Shea isn't the pure wide line runner and crosser some might like, but in the SH system that isn't needed. Instead Shea is the slasher/dribbler that the system requires. Crosses come from outside backs overlapping when the player goes central. The FCD coaching staff has been working with Shea to advance his came and he's learned some things, notably from Heath Pearce. I'd like to see a 10 game run at least for Shea. If it doesn't work, go sign a left mid. Shea is still young, he's got plenty of time. But I think he's ready.

As good as we all think Zach Loyd will be, Eric Alexander has been a revelation of the draft and a steal of a pick in round 3. Alexander has locked down the backup holding mid spot, has shown he can play in two other positions at least, and is now putting heat on Daniel Hernandez in the 2-players-for-each-spot method of the current gaffer. I have long advocated that holding mid is a spot MLS teams should not burn a foreign spot because you can find Americans to get it done there. Hernandez proved that point and now Hyndman has found a second player that I believe will be ready to play some serious PT if needed.

This one is hard to measure, but I think this has been a better preseason than last. I get a sense that players are not as burned out as last year. Hyndman hit them hard in 2009 and toward the end of spring some stress injuries popped up and players seemed a bit tired. This year things seem fresher, more lively, and the players brighter. Was it the less travel? Different kind of work? I put a lot of credit on this one to the increased use of the Michael Johnson Performance Center guys. Having an essentially full time strength and conditioning coach I believe has greatly benefited the team.

There are a couple player specifics I am really pleased about. First Heath Pearce, Dax McCarty, and Jeff Cunningham came out of a very competitive US camp in top shape and form. That puts them a leg up on everyone and their player has showed it. Second, I love the form David Ferreira is in. He kept in shape this winter, Hyndman didn't over use him early in the spring, and now Ferreira is looking like he's in top gear already. Those four players have really got me jazzed about the FCD form right now.

El Camino Central (Middle of the Road)

It's not a good preseason to be Dave ven den Bergh. In a way I kind of feel bead for the guy. (FYI he's been training some with the Aztex down in Austin) VDB wants to be playing and there are teams, notably LA I hear, who would like to have him. But VDB missed the bus last year so he's left waiting on the curb for a ride to school. Here's the thing though: why should FCD give a talented player to their opposition? Why should they help LA, or anyone else in MLS, be better? So yes, go ahead and ask for picks and money. Make whomever pay a real price to get VDB, the guy can play, he shouldn't be free. The rules are the rules, FCD is only using them to their advantage. Does it suck for VDB? Sure it does. But winning matters. C'est la vie.

Based on the Pioneer Cup, an event I think should be held EVERY year, he's your first team going into the season.

The preseason results were not stellar, one could call them a bit inconsistent. FCD opened the spring flattening some college teams, then fell apart in Florida losing to a college team and then three straight in MLS action with one win against New England sandwiched in there. But on the positive side the last two games were better with good results against MLS competition. As we say, it's not always about the results in the spring, but the up and down is a bit concerning. Good finish though to head into the season on a positive.

Early in the spring we saw a ton of ex-SMU guys in camp, most of whom aren't good enough for MLS. There wasn't much chance Hyndman was going to find a piece in there to help the club. Yet he got to throw his boys from SMU a bone be giving them a legit trial. He laid the ground work if he needs one or two to come in for training, or even if there had been a strike and he needed a couple replacement players. Did it help the team out long run? Not really. But it wasn't a bad idea either.

No Tan Bueno (Not So Good)

I am actually quite concerned that FC Dallas didn't add any top end talent. Sure a couple good picks, but I'm talking allocations and designated players. Almost everyone else in the league added talent. Teams that stand pat usually get passed by. Now the caveat to this is that FCD has been looking, most notably for a second striker to challenge Cunningham. Harris is serviceable in that spot, but something more is needed. Hyndman has been out scouting, sandwiching in a one day trip to South American to watch someone for example. But FCD is trying to be careful in terms of signing the right player. Attitude, work rate, and most importantly cost factor are large parts of the problem in brining in someone. This could be another season that sees FCD atop the allocation order mid-summer, this time post World Cup, so there is a great chance for mid-season help. But that doesn't change that fact that standing pat in MLS isn't a good idea.

FCD needs to get Rubun Luna signed. If I understand the rules correctly, Luna has now blown his college eligibility by playing in the Pioneer Cup (a game where a gate was charged). Luna graduated high school early and FCD has made him a part of the squad even giving him a number. MLS just signed the collective bargaining agreement and now we know for sure each MLS can have two home grown players both of whom don't count against the roster and cap. So let's get this see FCD get this done. The kid is banging in goals against MLS competition and looks as ready as Marosevic or Weideman are. I think Luna is Carlos Ruiz 2.0, hopefully without the partying. Get it done.

Wide midfield remains a question. I talked about Shea, and as much as I like that move, it's still a question. Right midfield is also a problem right now. That's a spot that could be upgraded. In theory Marvin Chavez had won that spot and was hoped to be an upgrade, but then the son of the wind got hurt. Atiba Harris seems to be the guy there right this minute, but that's just status quo. I think Chavez will return, but neither player has blown me away this spring. This one, mostly on the right, remains to be determined.

So what do you think? Do you like what you see and where you think this team is headed?